The Whole Christ

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17)

The Lord’s Prayer

pray

The Lord’s Prayer is a very special prayer. I have prayed it more times than I can count, both in personal and in corporate worship. A while back I spent some time analysing its structure and it appears to be based on the ten commandments. But before I get into that, I need to explain how the ten commandments themselves are structured.

Although evangelicals typically treat the first two “You shall” statements as separate commandments, I think they are best viewed as a unity. The reason for this has to do with the fact that the commandments ‘pair up’. Here is how this works:

  1. Do not have other gods before Yahweh, do not worship idols (Idolatry)
  2. Do not take Yahweh’s name in vain (Name)
  3. Remember the Sabbath (Sabbath)
  4. Honour your parents (Parents)
  5. Do not murder (Murder)
  6. Do not commit adultery (Adultery)
  7. Do not steal (Theft)
  8. Do not bear false witness (Witness)
  9. Do not covet your neighbour’s house (House)
  10. Do not covet your neighbour’s household (Household)

This is how the commandments are paired up:

  • The first two commandments are both specifically about God and how to honour him in all things. They are related to the book of Genesis, since they are foundational marks of a true believer in all ages.
  • The second two are both about authority, they are also the only two commandments not to begin with “You shall”. They are related to the book of Exodus, since they both relate specifically to Israel’s distinctness from the nations (the Sabbath being a special sign for Israel and living long in the promised land of Canaan being the blessing for honouring one’s parents).
  • The third two commandments both involve death, the first of a person and the second of a marriage, both are also punishable by death. They both relate to Leviticus, which is a book about death. There are regulations pertaining to the death of animals, houses, skin, and various forms of ritual death featured throughout Leviticus.
  • The fourth two commandments both carry an eye-for-an-eye penalty, in the second case the offender would suffer whatever punishment they caused the victim to suffer by falsely testifying against them in court. They both relate to Numbers, which is all about the penalty that Israel bore in the wilderness for disobeying God.
  • The fifth and final two commandments are both about coveting, one relating to the house and the other to the household (the various people, animals and objects in the house).They both relate to the book of Deuteronomy, which is all about Israel’s plans for setting up and moving into their new home in the land of Canaan.

Now that we have examined the structure of the ten commandments, we can see them reflected in the Lord’s Prayer, as demonstrated below:

  1. Our Father, Who is in heaven (God)
  2. Hallowed be Your Name (Name)
  3. May Your Kingdom come (Sabbath)
  4. May Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven (Mother and Father/Land-promise)
  5. Give us this day our daily bread (Bread) and forgive us our sins (Wine)
  6. As we forgive those who sin against us (Adultery)
  7. And lead us not into temptation (Theft)
  8. But deliver us from the evil one (False Witness)
  9. For Yours is the Kingdom (House)
  10. And the Power, and the Glory, unto the ages, Amen (Household)

Some comments are in order. The fourth commandment is seen in the fourth line in several ways. Firstly, there is the reference to earth and heaven, which represents mother and father (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth and was filled with heavenly breath). Also, the word for “earth” can also mean “land”, which links back to the fact that the blessing for obeying the fourth commandment was tied up with the promised land.

The fifth commandment is trickier to see here. The references to ‘bread’ and ‘forgiveness’ remind us of the story of the baker and the butler in prison (Genesis 40). The baker (who made bread) was killed on the third day, whereas the butler (who served wine) was forgiven and restored on the third day. It’s only with both parts in place that we can see the reference to death in this line. A reference to bread and wine also reminds us of the Last Supper and Jesus’s death on the cross. When we get to the seventh line, there is a plea not to be ‘stolen’ through temptation, and the person attempting the stealing is revealed to be “the evil one” (Satan – a false witness) in the eighth line.

In conclusion, when Jesus teaches us how to do something foundational like prayer, we should pay very careful attention.

Notes on the Sacrifices

These notes formed part of an exercise on the sacrifices that some of the children in Sunday School looked at last week.

Genesis 3:21-24 (essential for understanding what the offerings mean):

Adam and Eve are given clothes made out of animal skin, showing that it is only through death and the shedding of blood that we can come near to God. Once they have left the garden God leaves a flaming sword to guard it. If you want to get back ‘into the garden’ to see God face to face, you need to pass through sword and fire. That’s what the sacrifices were about – ascending into God’s presence by sword and fire.

Leviticus 1:3-9 (the burnt offering – the most fundamental one). All of the sacrifices prior to the Levitical priesthood were burnt offerings, so they are the ‘mother’ of all offerings. There are five steps:

  1. Lay your hand on the animal’s head – Animal is being delegated as a representative for the Israelite
  2. Kill the animal (sword) – Animal is killed, representing the Israelite ‘dying’ of his old life, confessing his sins to God
  3. Cut up, wash and re-arrange the animal – God cuts up, washes and re-fashions the Israelite by the power of his word, making them into a new person
  4. Animal is set on fire, ascending as a cloud of smoke (fire) – The Israelite is lifted into God’s presence as a cloud of smoke, marking a restored relationship with his maker
  5. Worshipper sent away – The Israelite is commissioned through sacrifice as a representative, with a duty to proclaim the goodness and love of God to the nations

A summary of what is special about each of the types of offerings:

  • Purification (sin) offering – Strong emphasis on blood – Jesus washes us clean with his blood so we can live for him
  • Ascension (burnt) offering – Whole offering is burnt up (none is eaten) – through Jesus we can ‘ascend’ into God’s presence
  • Peace (Communion) Offering – Emphasis on eating this one – In Jesus we can have true peace and fellowship with God, as his table companions
  • Gift (grain) offering – Grain is used instead of an animal – Through Jesus God accepts and delights in our gifts and offerings (and worship) to him
  • Trespass offering – Not used in regular worship, but as a payment for specific sins – Through Jesus we can be forgiven whenever we do wrong

Finally, Hebrews 10:11-14 tells us why we don’t sacrifice animals anymore, because now Jesus has taken away our sin forever.

The judgment of Galilee

I’m sorry that there hasn’t been much activity on here lately. Please follow the link below to a guest post on Mike Bull’s blog:

http://www.bullartistry.com.au/wp/2013/12/06/the-judgment-of-galilee/

The Christian basis of Western Society

I am currently reading through Rushdoony’s “The One and the Many”, which has so far been a delightful book. One passage from it recently jumped out at me. Rushdoony is quoting from Max Stirner’s “The Ego and His Own”:

Take notice how a “moral man” behaves, who to-day often thinks he is through with God and throws off Christianity as a bygone thing. If you ask him whether he has ever doubted that the copulation of brother and sister is incest, that monogamy is the truth of marriage, that filial piety is a sacred duty, etc., then a moral shudder will come over him at the conception of one’s being allowed to touch his sister as wife also, etc. And whence this shudder? Because he believes in those moral commandments. This moral faith is deeply rooted in his breast.

Although the book it is quoted from is over a hundred years old, it still rings true today. It dawned upon me, with all the recent debate about gay marriage, how noone seems to be pushing for polygamy. Whilst we have thrown off our Christian heritage in some measure, we have still retained the age old Christian belief that marriage is between two individuals, a reality which is derived from the Christian belief that marriage is defined by the union of Adam and Eve, followed by Christ and the Church (his people). Doesn’t that strike you as restrictive and antiquated?

Also, consider the case of incest. As with polygamy, there is no foundational basis in secular humanism for outlawing incest. So why continue to outlaw the practice? And if it is because we are concerned about the genetic deformities in any children born, then why not outlaw mentally disabled people from having children while we’re at it? This kind of selective inconsistency is proof of the Christian basis of Western society.

God and Free Will

Most Christians believe in free will. But free will is an incredibly complex thing and there are generally two different versions on offer. The first one is called Libertarianism. Most Christians probably believe in this kind of free will without knowing it. The second is called Compatibilism, which is the minority (Calvinist) view. Here is what they mean:

1) Libertarianism holds that the future is not determined in advance; a decision is freely made if and only if the person making the decision could have made a different decision under the exact same circumstances.

2) Compatibilism holds that all events are predetermined in advance; a decision is freely made so long as the person making the decision was not actively forced into making the decision.

As a Calvinist, I believe that all future events are predetermined. Therefore I fit in the second category. Whilst there are a number of scriptures I could point to suggesting divine determinism, I am going to take a different approach and offer a philosophical argument:

  1. God can never choose that which is evil under any circumstance (axiom A)
  2. Therefore, God does not have libertarian free will with regard to ethical matters (follows trivially from 1)
  3. Libertarian free will always represents greater freedom than merely compatibilistic free will (axiom B)
  4.  There is no sense in which human beings have greater freedom than God does (axiom C)
  5. Therefore, human beings do not have libertarian free will with regard to ethical matters (follows from 2, 3 and 4)

So at least with regard to the decisions which matter the most, human beings don’t possess libertarian free will. Either that or one of the axioms is false.

NT Wright on Deism and Christianity

Embarrassed of the Bible

Are you ashamed of the ‘messy’ portions of the Bible?

Sometimes I hear Christians, even pastors, suggest that some parts of the Law were just an ‘accomodation’ to the sinful tendencies of the Israelites. For example, I hear that although God has always hated all forms of slavery and considered them totally unjust, it was permitted in the Law simply because the Israelites didn’t know any better. Or that stoning adulterers to death was only allowed because the Israelites were a barbaric people who only understood violence. Below are some parts of the Law which we often find tough to accept.

1) Stoning to death for adultery, incest, homosexual fornication, bestiality, blasphemy, idolatry, murder and other capital crimes.

2) Selling people into slavery as a payment for debt.

3) Institutional patriarchy and polygamy.

But what does God himself think about the Law? His servant David says the following:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

(Psalm 19:7-8)

The Apostle Paul is in complete agreement with King David on this matter when he writes that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)

Now, there are some parts of the Law which no longer apply in the New Covenant. But that does not mean that those laws were inherently wrong from the start. It simply means that they are less appropriate in the New Covenant situation. Circumcision is a good example. There is nothing inherently wrong with the practice of circumcision, but it is now fulfilled in the ‘circumcision’ of Christ on the cross (Colossians 2:11), so it is unnecessary under the New Covenant. God, in the person of his Son Jesus, has been ‘cut off’ for us so that we can be welcomed into his arms of love.

But this does not give us the liberty to despise the Word of God. Whenever we come across parts of the Bible which we find difficult to accept, we must accept that it is we who are in the wrong, and not God. We must let the justice of God reign in our lives, not the ‘social justice’ of secular humanism.

On the Emerging Church

There is much that I could say regarding the Emerging Church. It was a big movement a few years back, but it has now lost much of its momentum, probably due to many of the heretical tendencies within it. Many members of my own Church appear to have been heavily influenced by some pastors from the emerging movement, like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. In a Christianity Today article a few years back, Scot McKnight listed 5 ‘streams’ which together made up the emerging Church movement. The article can be found here. Looking back on the movement, I will be interacting with those five streams and stating where I agree and disagree with them as approaches to how we do Church.

1. Prophetic (or at least provocative) rhetoric

“Our language frequently borrows the kind of rhetoric found in Old Testament prophets like Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). Hosea engages here in deliberate overstatement, for God never forbids Temple worship.”

I half agree with this one – I think a bit of overstatement can be biblical. However, there is a time for overstatement and a time for clarity. We have to bear in mind that the words of pastors in the 21st century are not infallible like those of Jesus and the prophets. If someone asks a straight question, they usually deserve a straight answer. Of course, Jesus often answered the Pharisees in highly rhetorical ways; however, we must bear in mind that these people had set out to murder him – this is not the norm for western Christians! The epistles of the New Testament and the Law of the Old contain a lot of straight talk.

2. Postmodern thinking

“Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Instead, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science or Marxism.”

I think it can be extremely useful to bring out all of our underlying assumptions and to question the popular metanarratives of our day. In this regard, it is ironic (to say the least) that the emerging types seemed prone to blindly accepting the inherited sociological framework of Evolution.

I think that a postmodern suspicion of overly simplistic metanarratives was one of the great strengths of the emerging movement. It just seems unfortunate that the Emerging Church movement was on the whole more interested in critiquing Christian metanarratives than in critiquing the popular secular one.

3. Praxis-oriented

“Evangelicals sometimes forget that God cares about sacred space and ritual—he told Moses how to design the tabernacle and gave detailed directions to Solomon for building a majestic Temple.”

I love this one. In Revelation 4-5, there is a scene of heavenly worship. And in that worship there are robes, incense, prostration, lots of stringed instruments, chanting and the like. Why isn’t our worship this holistic? Of course, the way we worship should not be chaotic, but thoroughly prepared and carefully orchestrated – like the sacred feasts of Israel. However, I see no reason why worship can’t involve the whole person and at the same time be conducted in an orderly fashion. But let’s keep the bible central here, as everywhere.

4. Post-evangelical

“No systematic theology can be final. In this sense, the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, ‘This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk.’”

As a reformed postmillennialist, I can get behind this. I think the evangelical conception of the Church and the Kingdom of God can be a little too static at times. So long as we are clear regarding the Gospel message, I don’t see why our understanding cannot change and even improve as time goes by. However, we must stick by the creeds and be prepared to die for the Gospel.

5. Political Gospel

“I don’t think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do.”

I think there has been confusion here between the roles of Church and state. The Church is commanded to disciple the nations – that’s what the great commission means. We are to help the poor, to free the oppressed and to heal the sick. The state, however, has not been given this duty. They are simply given authority to punish evildoers (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2).

All in all though, I don’t believe that politics belongs in the pulpit. Neither Jesus nor Paul was centrally concerned with such affairs; rather, the ministry and mission of the Church was most important. The Church is new wine bursting old wineskins. Let’s make it the best wine possible!

Transcendental men

If you’ve never visited Peter Leithart’s blog before, I warmly commend it to you. I recently read an old post by him on beauty and its relation to apologetics, which can be found here. In it, he argues that the beauty inherent in nature points to the existence of an ultimate beauty – Christ. The argument from beauty is the most neglected of the three transcendental arguments and yet it is probably the most important.

Here are the three transcendental arguments for the existence of God.

1) The argument from morality – the existence of objective morality cannot be adequately accounted for without presupposing a Christian worldview.

2) The argument from logic – the existence of logical laws, of objective truth, cannot be adequately accounted for without presupposing a Christian worldview.

3) The argument from beauty – the existence of beauty cannot be adequately accounted for without presupposing a Christian worldview.

As Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).

One of the main reasons why the argument from beauty is neglected is because it is less objective than the other two. I think though, that suspicion of it is probably rooted in modernism, rather than in Christianity. Let us not forget that postmodernism acted as a useful counterbalance against the liberal thinking of modernistic enlightenment-era Christianity. We need to see the Christ of Christianity as Isaiah did, as a God of Glory and Beauty (Isaiah 6).

Consider this – most Christians in the UK are women. A Tearfund report from around ten years ago suggested that 2 in every 3 Christians are female. I don’t know if that figure is still accurate, but I think it says something about British men. It suggests that they don’t get the beauty of the gospel like women do.

Many have suggested that the Church is too feminine and needs to become more ‘manly’ to appeal to men. Whilst that may be partially true, I think there is an inherent danger in labelling the dullness of British liberal evangelicalism as “feminine”. It carries the implication that women are dull and lifeless, whereas men are fun and exciting, which couldn’t be further from the truth! Let us not forget that the Holy Spirit is the feminine person of the Godhead, the glorifier, and that it is through the Spirit that we come to know Jesus.

I think that there is a much simpler reason why the men left the Church: sex. One of the main reasons why men refuse to accept Jesus is because they don’t want anyone to have control over their sex lives. Many non-Christian men I have spoken with have even been very open about this as the reason why! The apologetic answer to the problem is not to concentrate solely on the more logic-orientated arguments for Christianity, which will only evade the deeper issues. Rather, we must unashamedly set forth the beauty of Christ first and foremost, displaying it in our words and actions, so that the word of the gospel of Christ might be made flesh in us.

Top 5 Apologetics Myths

I have recently been reading Cornelius Van Til’s “Christian Apologetics” and it has really got me thinking about how the Church ought to be interacting with the world on some of today’s hot topics. I think all too often we are prone to affirming certain parts of the secular worldview without properly considering the consequences. So here are five things which the good Christian apologist should never agree with the secularist about. There are probably many others, but here are just a few.

1) “Both of us believe in the laws of science”

We should never affirm that any such impersonal, unchangeable ‘laws’ exist (cf 2 Peter 3:3-4). By agreeing with the secularist on this matter the apologist is basically affirming a materialistic worldview from the outset. Contrary to this, we must insist that God directly and personally governs the universe through his Spirit (eg. Psalm 104); the ‘laws’ of science are merely conventions which God is free to break whenever he so desires.

2) “Both of us are honestly pursuing the truth, we have just come to different conclusions”

The Apostle Paul does not reason this way. He insists that those who deny the gospel are fools (Romans 1:22-23) and that they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18-19). Deep down in his heart of hearts, the secularist knows that Jesus is Lord of the universe and he is doing everything he can to actively suppress that truth. He has become so accustomed to doing this that he has become blind (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) and hard-hearted (Ephesians 4:17-18).

3) “The existence of God is a complex issue”

Psalm 19 teaches that the existence of the triune God is crystal clear from the world he made; that creation is constantly screaming the good news about its Creator and about his graciousness towards us. It is our sinfulness which blinds us and keeps us from recognising this self-evident fact.

4) “We should begin outside of faith and the Bible and investigate these issues independently”

The secularist is not capable of investigating anything independently because they are blind. They need to recognise the reality of their sinfulness through hearing the good news about God’s grace revealed in Jesus (Romans 1:16-17). The apologist is not seeking to win an argument, but to lead a non-Christian to repentance.

5) “Faith should be a private matter”

Christianity is about proclamation. You cannot be a Christian and be quiet about it. The Apostles did not keep silent even after violent persecution (Acts 4) and neither should we. We would be hypocrites if we failed to speak out against the sinful practices of the world, if we did not denounce evil and rejoice in good. This applies in the ‘political’ sphere just as much as in the ‘personal’ one. Jesus is lord over all the kings of the earth (Psalm 2).

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